President Donald Trump has returned to the campaign trail less than two weeks after testing positive for coronavirus.
He told thousands of supporters, many not wearing masks, that he could give them “a big fat kiss”, at a rally in the battleground state of Florida.
His rival, Joe Biden, speaking in Ohio, accused the president of “reckless behaviour” since his diagnosis.
Three Weeks To The Election
The two presidential candidates are scrambling to secure votes with three weeks until the 3 November election.
Opinion polls suggests Mr Biden has a 10-point lead over Mr Trump nationally. However his lead in some key states is narrower – as is the case in Florida, where the Democrat is 3.7 percentage points ahead, according to an average of polls collated by Real Clear Politics.
Battlegrounds like Florida and Ohio are crucial for gathering the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House, which is not determined by a simple count of votes nationwide.
Mr Trump, 74, tested positive for Covid-19 some 12 days ago, and was admitted to hospital a day later.
But on Sunday his personal doctor said he was no longer a Covid transmission risk to others and disclosed on Monday that his most recent tests were negative over consecutive days, although he did not give the dates.
Top US government scientist Anthony Fauci said holding big campaign rallies was “asking for trouble” as many states are battling an increase in coronavirus cases.
Crowd Comes To See Trump
The usual chants of “Four more years!” were heard as hundreds queued to enter the open-air space where the president made his appearance.
People have been getting their temperature checked and were offered face masks. Those who covered up didn’t think it was too soon for the president to be out and about. They said they admired him for it. One man here told me he was originally from New York and had made Florida his home – just like “his hero” Donald Trump.
The Trump campaign team is throwing everything at Florida – a loss here makes his return to the White House near impossible.
Vice-President Mike Pence recently visited “The Villages”, a famous retirement community, to court the elderly vote.
But though the president and some of his supporters here seem relaxed about coronavirus, it has hit Florida hard, with more than 15,000 deaths.
Joe Biden, who arrives in the state on Tuesday, is focusing on the administration’s handling of the pandemic and plans to carry out a quieter but vigorous campaign in key suburban areas, which he hopes will help flip the state blue.
What Did Trump Say?
In his first stump appearance following his Covid-19 diagnosis and recovery, a re-invigorated Mr Trump returned to his campaign’s familiar themes and lines of attack against Mr Biden.
He touted stock market growth, the establishment of the US Space Force and his successful confirmation of two conservative Supreme Court justices to the bench – with a third nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, before the Senate this week – as major achievements.
In front of a crowd of several thousand he denounced plans to prolong Covid-related shutdowns supported by Democrats and sought to question Mr Biden’s mental acuity.
Referring to his own recovery from Covid-19, he said at one point: “They say I’m immune – I feel so powerful. I’ll walk in there and kiss everyone. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women, I’ll give you a big, fat kiss.”
Though reinfections of the virus remain rare scientists are still questioning how long any potential immunity to the virus lasts.
Few people in the crowd were seen wearing masks or adhering to public health guidelines to keep at least 6ft (2m) apart to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19.
Dr Fauci said it was not the time to be holding full campaign rallies as the country battles the pandemic.
“We know that that is asking for trouble when you do that,” he said.
“Now is even more so a worse time to do that, because when you look at what’s going on in the United States, it’s really very troublesome,” he added, referring to increases in test positivity rates in a number of states.
It was no surprise that Florida is the place where Mr Trump made his big rally return.
He wants and needs to win Florida, a state he narrowly carried in 2016. It is also his adopted home. A lifelong New Yorker, he made himself a Florida resident in September last year.
However, President Trump’s support from seniors, which helped him win four years ago, appears to be dwindling, with his campaign trying to make up for the losses by courting African American and Hispanic voters.
“Every campaign changes from election to re-election,” his campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters on Monday.
US presidents are not elected directly. Instead, candidates compete to win a majority of votes in an electoral college – needing at least 270 out of the total of 538 up for grabs.
Each state has a set number of electoral college votes which is equal to the number of representatives it sends to the US Congress.
This means voters decide state-level contests. In all but two cases, the candidate who wins the state takes all the college votes for that state. This is why it is possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally but still fall short of the 270 needed in the electoral college and thus lose the election (as happened in 2016).
Close races in crucial states like Florida mean Mr Trump may yet win re-election by capturing key electoral college-rich territories.
Florida, with 29 votes in the electoral college, is one of the biggest states up for grabs, as only California and Texas have more.
Mr Trump is visiting a further three battleground states this week – Pennsylvania (with 20 electoral college votes), Iowa (six) and North Carolina (15).
What About Joe Biden?
The Democrat is set to appear in Florida on Tuesday.
Mr Biden, who made two appearances in the key state of Ohio on Monday, attacked the president’s campaigning approach, saying that he “comes to Sanford bringing nothing but reckless behaviour, divisive rhetoric and fear mongering”.
President Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points four years ago; however recent polls show this year’s race to be tightening. Ohio has 18 electoral college votes.
Mr Biden told car workers who had gathered in American-made vehicles in Toledo: “215,000 dead because of Covid… Trump knew how dangerous the disease was but did nothing. Why didn’t he warn us?”
Mr Biden touted his own record in the state, saying he and former President Barack Obama had played a key role in keeping the car industry afloat during the financial crisis and recession 10 years ago.
The 77-year-old has taken a more cautious approach to campaigning, with his team announcing on Monday that he had tested negative for the virus again.
Election officials in a number of key states are already seeing high levels of in-person early voting, with reports of hours-long queues in Georgia on Monday. The US Elections Project, a study run by Florida University professor Michael McDonald, puts the figure of early voters across the US as high as 10.5 million.
A record number of people are also expected to vote by post due to the pandemic.